There is something healing about the soil, about nature, the quietness of a farm field, a walk through the woods, lunch on a picnic table. Somehow these things are able to ground us. When all around our lives is chaos, they stop the swirling, quiet the noise and our hearts are at peace. This was our experience at Lady Flower Gardens.
While working at The Mustard Seed one summer, I got a call from Kelly and Doug saying that they had planted a couple acres of land for organizations in the inner city and they needed help harvesting. A bunch of us piled into fifteen-passenger vans and drove out to the farm. This was truly the start of something great. Though we only spent three Saturdays on the farm that first summer, the experience truly shaped me and I know it shaped countless others. This began our reconnection to creation and community.
I remember one of the community members saying that he loved coming out to the farm because he didn’t hear any sirens. It was quiet. This is something we can take for granted, but for those whose reality is moving form shelter to shelter and from food line-up to food line-up, the calm is noticeable and it is priceless. At LFG we were invited back into the calm of creation. Our purpose was to come and help harvest vegetables, but our experience was the wide open fields, dirt in our hands, beautiful poplar trees and the sound of the river. We were invited away from the concrete blocks that are the radius of Edmonton’s inner-city into the beauty of a farmer’s field.
The simplicity of this invitation is also its profound power. I believe that when we move into the calm and beauty of nature, creation allows us to relax; to let down our guard; to forget for a moment the worries we carry and to reconnect with our true selves. I know this was true for the friends and community members that we brought out to LFG. It was incredible to see the joy and peace that people experienced each time they came out to the farm and how their true selves really seemed to shine in those afternoons.
One of the images that always come to mind when I think about LFG is of a women named Ruth* sitting on the soil picking potatoes. Ruth was one of the custodians at The Mustard Seed. As well, she often came for meals in the evenings, many times bringing along her three grandchildren who lived with her. Ruth was an incredible woman who worked hard to provide not only for herself but often for her children and grandchildren as well. Times were definitely not easy for her, but she was always kind to and caring for those around her.
That afternoon, sitting on the soil in the sunshine, out of the city, away from the busyness and worries, Ruth seemed to shine. She told us stories of how she used to work picking potatoes on a farm. She was in her element; connected once again to the earth but also to a different side of herself. She was able to teach and share knowledge with her grandchild. I don’t think that I will ever forget the look on her grandson’s face when he pulled out a carrot that had two “legs”. He laughed and laughed and laughed. Never before had he seen a carrot like that; never mind pulled one from the ground!
As I sat on the soil across from Ruth, listening to stories of her past as we picked potatoes, I experienced a moment of true mutuality. There was no staff or community member, housed or unhoused, employed or unemployed, no divisions or barriers. The soil had a way of equalizing us all. There on the flat ground of the prairies, all hierarchies were leveled. We were learning from each other as we worked to bring in the harvest.
The same held true at the picnic table. After a hard morning of work, we would gather on the patio and share lunch with each other. Hot and tired from the sun and hard work, these were the moments where we celebrated the work we had done together- often even eating the fruits of our labor! It was interesting moving from one context of eating to another. We came from a meal line up; where portions of food were handed from one person to another across a counter, where the person receiving the food went to sit at a table full of strangers. In contrast, on the farm we sat around the table together. We handed out bowls of soup to each other, passing around the vegetables or chips, pouring each other glasses of juice. There was no one person giving and the other receiving, but we were both. The picnic table created an opportunity for true community. We worked and celebrated together, creating community, connected by and in the beauty of creation.
My experience at Lady Flower Gardens has been an inspiration for true mutuality while working with those at the margins of society. The potato field and the picnic table are images that remind me that this kind of mutually community is possible. I was shown the incredible gift and power of nature and the importance of creating spaces that allow people to enter into the peace of creation. I experienced firsthand how the simple act of having your hands in the soil heals and calms your heart and connects you to your true self. I have seen how a group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds can come together in work and celebration to bring in the potato harvest.
Though I have since left Edmonton and The Mustard Seed, I have taken these experiences with me into the work I am now doing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). I work for an organization that seeks to build community based on mutual relationships. Each week we have open community meals where we sit around a table together, giving and receiving food from each other. We have a community garden in the heart of the DTES as a way of creating a peaceful space where people are able to connect with nature. I have seen once again the power of soil to heal and the gift nature has to connect people with themselves as well as community. Though years have passed and I am far from the farm, I hold these memories dear to my heart and am constantly inspired by the work that Kelly and Doug are doing at Lady Flower Gardens.